Fire hope to avoid repeating recent mistake when hosting D.C. United


Fire hope to avoid repeating recent mistake when hosting D.C. United

Two weeks ago the Fire hosted Minnesota, which entered without a win on the road and with the lowest point total in Major League Soccer.

The Loons left Toyota Park with a win.

On Saturday, the Fire host another one of the worst teams in the standings in D.C. United. Like Minnesota, D.C. added some key players in the summer and has been playing better of late. The Fire will be hoping to avoid a similar mistake, especially with Atlanta closing the gap for third place after walloping Dallas and New England by a combined 10 goals in the first two games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Fire (13-9-6, 45 points) host D.C. (8-16-4, 28 points) on CSN+ (channel finder) with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. The Fire already beat United 1-0 at RFK Stadium on May 20, but midseason reinforcements have changed D.C.

“I don’t think it matters at this point,” midfielder Dax McCarty said about the previous win against D.C. “They’re a totally different team now, probably four or five new players in that are playing for them. I think they’ve gotten a lot of really good results lately. I think they’ve tightened up at the back. Defensively they’re a lot better.“

D.C. added U.S. national team player Paul Arriola, Hungarian Zoltan Stieber and Russell Canouse to its midfield in August. In the five games since Arriola’s arrival, United is 3-2, including a three-game winning streak that was snapped with a 2-1 home loss to Orlando last week.

“I know they’re coming off a poor result against Orlando, but before that they had won three games in a row and all by the same scoreline of 1-0 so that shows you that they’ve kind of got that defensive discipline that I think D.C. has kind of been known for the past couple years,” McCarty said. “They’re going to be hard to break down. They’re going to come in here and try to frustrate us and try to slow the game down… We’re coming off the positive performance (a 1-1 tie against the New York Red Bulls), now we just need to turn those performances into wins again.”

Both teams will be missing players due to injury. Former Fire winger Patrick Nyarko will not return to Toyota Park because he is out with a concussion. Defender Sean Franklin will also miss for D.C. due to yellow card accumulation.

Michael de Leeuw will miss the game for the Fire from yellow cards as well. Juninho will also be out due to a left knee injury.

Joao Meira could return from his calf injury. The Portuguese defender has been out for a month and was still limited in training this week, but was training with the group.

The bigger injury question is Bastian Schweinsteiger. The Fire’s German midfielder only stretched and jogged at training on Tuesday, but did begin kicking the ball on Wednesday. With Juninho already out, having Schweinsteiger return will be of more importance.

Regardless of who plays, Fire coach Veljko Paunovic preached urgency as a key factor with only six games remaining in the regular season.

“I think this point of the season, everyone sees every next game as a final and I think we’re going to have a very, very tough opponent, who did good summer signings and reinforced them so they had a good winning streak before the last game,” Paunovic said. “Obviously their confidence is better so it’s going to be for us, a tough, tough game, but the guys are ready and the guys are aware of the urgency.”

Chicago Fire vs. D.C. United

Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.

TV: CSN+ (channel finder)

When: Coverage begins at 7 p.m. on Saturday

Records: Fire (13-9-6, 45 points), D.C. (8-16-4, 28 points)

Fire sign veteran MLS forward Alan Gordon


Fire sign veteran MLS forward Alan Gordon

As far as notorious players in MLS with a history of scoring big goals, Alan Gordon is one of the first names on that list.

The Fire signed the 36-year-old forward on Friday, continuing to add depth to a roster that appeared paper thin throughout the preseason. Gordon, who had been on trial with the Fire for part of the preseason and even after the season opener, signed a one-year deal.

Gordon adds plenty of experience from being in the league since 2004 and having scored 55 goals with five different teams. For the past few years he has been used primarily as a substitute, but has still maintained his reputation for scoring goals late in games.

At 6-foot-3 he brings plenty of size and strength to the team and is one of the best players on headers in the league. Last season the Fire failed to score directly off a set piece, which was both due to consistently poor service from corner kicks and a lack of players adept at finishing them off. Gordon should give the Fire a late-game option in that area.

Elliot Collier had impressed the Fire enough to earn a contract as a third-round pick and an international player and even came off the bench in the opening loss to Sporting Kansas City, but it appears the team wanted more experience at forward with Gordon.

Wild season opener shows plenty of things to work on for Fire

Wild season opener shows plenty of things to work on for Fire

If you were looking for entertainment, goals, plot twists and storylines, the Fire’s season opener had all of those boxes checked.

What it didn’t have was even a point for the hosts against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday at Toyota Park.

The first half showed a Fire team which very much looked like the “incomplete” roster that general manager Nelson Rodriguez referenced just before the season. KC led 2-0 and the Fire failed to get a shot on target, showing a lack of chance creation and any semblance of a dangerous attack.

The second half showed a Fire attack which was capable of turning the heat up on the visitors, but also a defense which couldn’t defend. Sporting's 4-3 win revealed that there’s plenty of work to do for the Fire to resemble the team that finished third in the MLS regular season last year.

“Especially in the first half we saw that we weren’t ready to compete with a team that had an advantage that they had one competition game before us,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “That was the main difference in the first half, but the adjustment in the second half was tremendous. I think just showing that we can score three goals that quickly and create even more opportunities was a positive.”

However, Paunovic wasn’t about to let his team off the hook by only speaking about positives.

“What we learned today is that we have to get better on every side of the game and in every aspect of the game,” he said. “We are not there. We didn’t have a good game. I think overall a lot of innocent and naive mistakes.”

After trailing 2-0 at halftime, the Fire revved things up in the final 25 minutes and Bastian Schweinsteiger keyed the first goal with a slick assist to newcomer Aleksandar Katai. Nemanja Nikolic showed the scoring instincts and finishing ability that won him the league scoring title a year ago by scoring two more goals to give the Fire the lead in the 82nd minute.

Then it all fell apart, with two KC goals within four minutes of Nikolic giving the Fire the lead. Dax McCarty, your thoughts?

“You’re 10 minutes away from the headline and the storyline being Chicago Fire show great character, make a fantastic comeback, win the game 3-2 and yet here we are sitting here, somehow losing that game, which is insane,” McCarty said. “It’s totally insane.”

The defensive struggles, which Paunovic pointed out mirrored last year’s early playoff exit in a 4-0 loss, will need to get resolved internally. Johan Kappelhof, Brandon Vincent and Matt Polster all started on a competent defense last year and McCarty and Schweinsteiger helped play damage control in midfield. This isn’t what the weakness of the team was supposed to be yet after one game, it’s all anyone on the team could talk about.

“We gave up four goals,” Kappelhof said. “That’s not good. Simple.”

While more additions may be coming in-season, as Rodriguez has mentioned, and injuries haven’t allowed the Fire to start 2018 fresh, this game wasn’t a good sign for what’s to come for the 2018 Fire. A lack of any offensive creation in the first half and a lack of defensive concentration, as Paunovic put it, throughout the game showed a team that has plenty of pock-marks currently.

“We don’t know how to defend, quite frankly," McCarty said. "From back to front, front to back, the defending aspect of our game was pretty poor. A lot of things to learn."

The good news is even if the Fire take some time to correct the errors from Saturday’s season opener, MLS is a forgiving league. A majority of the league, 12 of 23 teams, makes the playoffs and league-wide parity means teams can go through slumps and still end in good standing. A year ago, the Fire lost six games out of seven and still had the third best record in the league. It’s OK if the team takes time to iron out some organizational issues defensively, just don’t take too long.